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Introducing Virtual SAN

VMware’s plan for software-defined storage is to focus on a set of VMware initiatives related to local storage, shared storage, and storage/data services. In essence, VMware wants to make vSphere a platform for storage services.

Historically, storage was something that was configured and deployed at the start of a project, and was not changed during its life cycle. If there was a need to change some characteristics or features of the logical unit number (LUN) or volume that were being leveraged by VMs, in many cases the original LUN or volume was deleted and a new volume with the required features or characteristics was created. This was a very intrusive, risky, and time-consuming operation due to the requirement to migrate workloads between LUNs or volumes, which may have taken weeks to coordinate.

With software-defined storage, VM storage requirements can be dynamically instantiated. There is no need to repurpose LUNs or volumes. VM workloads and requirements may change over time, and the underlying storage can be adapted to the workload at any time. VSAN aims to provide storage services and service level agreement automation through a software layer on the hosts that integrates with, abstracts, and pools the underlying hardware.

A key factor for software-defined storage is storage policy–based management (SPBM). This is also a key feature in the vSphere 5.5 release. SPBM can be thought of as the next generation of VMware’s storage profile features that was introduced with vSphere 5.0. Where the initial focus of storage profiles was more about ensuring VMs were provisioned to the correct storage device, in vSphere 5.5. SPBM is a critical component to how VMware is implementing software-defined storage.

Using SPBM and vSphere APIs, the underlying storage technology surfaces an abstracted pool of storage space with various capabilities that is presented to vSphere administrators for VM provisioning. The capabilities can relate to performance, availability, or storage services such as thin provisioning, compression, replication, and more. A vSphere administrator can then create a VM storage policy (or profile) using a subset of the capabilities that are required by the application running in the VM. At deployment time, the vSphere administrator selects a VM storage policy. SPBM pushes the VM storage policy down to the storage layer and datastores that understand that the requirements placed in the VM storage policy will be made available for selection. This means that the VM is always instantiated on the appropriate underlying storage based on the requirements placed in the VM storage policy.

Should the VM’s workload or I/O pattern change over time, it is simply a matter of applying a new VM storage policy with requirements and characteristics that reflect the new workload to that specific VM, or even virtual disk, after which the policy will be seamlessly applied without any manual intervention from the administrator (in contrast to many legacy storage systems, where a manual migration of VMs or virtual disks to a different data-store would be required). VSAN has been developed to seamlessly integrate with vSphere and the SPBM functionality it offers.

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